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Household Hints & HELP!

Identity Theft

submitted by Lorene Bartos, Extension Educator
This article appears in the February 6, 2005 Lincoln Journal Star Newspaper.

Identity theft: when fact becomes fiction...Do you know what to do to protect yourself from identity theft? February 6-12, 2005 is National Consumer Protection Week (NCPW).

Did you know:

ID theft is currently the fastest growing white collar crime in the U.S. Nearly 10 million Americans have been victims in the last year.

Identity thieves get your information by:

  • stealing your wallet or purse;
  • stealing your mail or completing a “change of address” form without your knowledge;
  • rummaging through your trash at home or at a business; and
  • using personal information they find on the Internet about you.

When disposing of a computer, is isn’t sufficient to delete files by using the keyboard or mouse commands. It is best to use a “wipe” utility program to overwrite the entire hard drive.

Once identity thieves get your personal information they can use it to:

  • call your credit card issuer and change the mailing address on the card;
  • open a new credit card account or bank account in your name;
  • file for bankruptcy under your name to avoid paying off debts they’ve incurred; and
  • counterfeit checks or drain your bank account.

To minimize your risk of becoming a victim of ID theft, you should:

  • not give out your personal information by e-mail, Internet, phone or mail unless you initiate the contact and you know who you are dealing with;
  • not carry you Social Security card with you;
  • carry only identification information and the number of credit and debit cards you will actually need at the time; or
  • place passwords on your credit card, bank and phone accounts.

If you think someone has stolen your personal information or identification you should:

  • immediately close all your credit card or bank accounts;
  • place a fraud alert with any one of the three national consumer reporting companies;
  • contact the Social Security Administration to get a new Social Security number; and
  • alert issuing agencies for your driver’s license and other identification documents.

You may be a victim of identity theft when you:

  • fail to receive bills or other mail;
  • receive credit cards for which you didn’t apply;
  • are denied credit for no apparent reason; or
  • get calls or letters from debt collectors or businesses about merchandise or services you didn’t purchase.

If you are a victim of identity theft, it is a good idea to place a fraud alert on your credit reports and review your report periodically. This can help prevent an identity theft from opening additional accounts in your name.

You should not keep your passwords for your computer or Web site taped to your computer. Always safeguard any of your passwords.

Identity theft can happen to anyone. Start today to take precautions around your home, business and in everything you do to protect your identity. Watch what you throw in the trash. Get a paper shredder and shred documents, letters and credit card applications that contain your information. Protect yourself.

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